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Swing Riots

Carl J. Griffin


Starting with the concurrent destruction of threshing machines in the Elham Valley area of east Kent and a wave of incendiary fires in the vicinity of Sevenoaks in the late summer of 1830, the so-called “Swing Riots” went on to engulf most of rural southern, central, and eastern England. Whilst the destruction of labor-sapping threshing machines became, retrospectively, the hallmark of the movement, Swing took many forms including incendiarism, “mobbings,” political demonstrations, attacks on migrant laborers, food riots (in Cornwall), and enclosure riots (at Otmoor, Oxfordshire). Notwithstanding the deployment of such seemingly disparate weapons of rural resistance, Swing protests universally sought to improve the living standards of the rural worker, whether through eliminating unemployment (attacking threshing machines) or increasing wages and poor relief payments. The first recorded attack on a threshing machine occurred at Wingmore, near Canterbury, on August 24. However, it was not until September 27 that any arrests were made, by which time at least 15 machines had been destroyed. Immediately thereafter the intensity of protest declined. The trial, though, acted to reinvigorate protest. That six of the seven men were sentenced to four days' imprisonment against a maximum sentence of seven years' transportation provoked a sensation. Following what Home Secretary Sir Robert ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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